Ultima IX: Ascension

aka: Ultima 9, Ultima: Ascension
Moby ID: 779
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Description official descriptions

For the last time, the Avatar is being summoned to free Britannia from Guardian's curse. The eight Shrines of Virtues, the pride of Britannia, have been all desecrated by this evil and mysterious creature. The glyphs which protected them have been taken, and put into huge columns the Guardian built in Britannia, with their entrances hidden deep in dangerous dungeons. As a result, the people of Britannia have lost their virtues. The Avatar must now cleanse the shrines and let the virtues return to the people. His task becomes particularly difficult because he cannot trust the people he encounters any more. With the help of a few allies, the Avatar will have to help the inhabitants of Britannia, and learn about the true origin of the Guardian.

Ultima IX: Ascension is the last single-player installment of the Ultima series, and the conclusion of its overarching story. The game still contains role-playing elements such as the series' traditional character creation based on ethically ambiguous questions, a quest-based structure (including side quests), a large world to explore, heavy inventory management, financial system, as well as weapon and armor customization. However, the game has no experience points system; the protagonist's basic attributes are increased only after completing certain storyline events.

Similarly to the previous installment, the combat in the game is action-oriented, and the protagonist has no companions that would help him in battles. The Avatar can use melee and ranged weapons (bows) or magic spells to dispose of his foes. The puzzle-oriented structure of the dungeons further emphasizes the game's tendency towards action-adventure gameplay not dissimilar to Zelda games.

The game features support for EAX sound and a fully 3D world with an almost unrestricted freedom of movement: in addition to climbing and jumping, which the Avatar has "learned" in the previous game, he can also swim and dive; some well-hidden locations can only be accessed in this way. The physical interactivity with the game world has been preserved; almost every object can be moved from place to place or taken into the Avatar's inventory.

Spellings

  • ウルティマIX: アセンション - Japanese spelling
  • 創世紀 IX - Traditional Chinese spelling

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Credits (Windows version)

183 People (174 developers, 9 thanks) · View all

Reviews

Critics

Average score: 70% (based on 38 ratings)

Players

Average score: 3.7 out of 5 (based on 104 ratings with 12 reviews)

Ahead of it's time, for good and bad.

The Good
An ambitious, quantum leap in scope; free-form movement indoors and out to an extent not attempted before. Next-generation graphics including spacious outdoor scenes, highly interactive, beautifully rich textures. Rich story, as with all Ultima's.

The Bad
Buggy and unplayable on systems at the time due to impossible system requirements. This game was released under pressure, full of bugs including (from memory) frequent crashes. But that hardly mattered, as virtually nobody could play this game on release due to absurdly high system specs. I had a reasonably high-end PC and it was virtually impossible just to move around. A workmate had a very high-end PC and it was hardly any better.

The Bottom Line
Beautiful, free-form role-playing game light-years ahead of its time (in 1999), but it's own ambitiousness was its ultimate downfall.

Windows · by tino rossi (1) · 2006

George gives a blank stare at U9 box, CDs, and materials

The Good
Well, I just finished Ultima 9 last night. I've been an Ultima fan for a LONG time, and have always been interested in it. I wrote a novel-length fanfic about it, plus a shorter, humorous one. I'm working on a total-conversion of Warcraft 2 set in Britannia. I while away the hours on an Ultima-themed MOO. I argue Ultima philosophy with all my friends. Pretty sad, huh?

Anyway. Where should I start? I have a million mixed feelings about Ultima 9, very few of them are good. What did I like about the game? A lot of the graphics were pretty. A few choice moments during play I encountered a pretty thoughtful plot element. A few moments during play (probably a total of 10 minutes) I really felt like I was in Britannia.

But... that was about all. These topics are, seemingly, what Origin would like you to think is all that happens. But come on... those who have played it know there's more to it than this. And Origin's recent track record exactly create happy fans all around. So... onto my criticisms.

The Bad
One of the biggest features Origin touts about U9 is the immersive world. They insist it is the most immersive world in a computer game, ever. Most of my uses of 'immersive' don't seem to apply to U9, and I certainly wasn't immersed when I played it. So let's turn to Webster for a real comparison. My dictionary says to immerse is (the definition not involving water, anyway) "to involve deeply, absorb". How does a game involve or absorb the player? What exactly, about the gameplay, acts to involve the player in the world, or causes a suspension of disbelief so great that one becomes absorbed into the world?

One answer is atmospherics. Use sensory input to create the sensation of 'being there,' such as proper visual and aural input (via surroundings, characters, and story elements) that stimulates enough thought about the game world that the player (for the moment) forgets about real life and immediate surroundings. Thief: The Dark Project is an excellent example of immersion via atmospherics. Does U9 succeed in immersion via atmospherics? Not particularly. Suspension of disbelief is a very tricky thing to get right, yet some games do it quite well. A good example to use might be... you're sitting watching a movie, a really good movie. You're immersed. Someone in the front row stands up, blocks part of the screen, and burps really loudly. You're not immersed anymore. You're just annoyed. The bugs and annoyances in U9 ruined 95% of the immersiveness that was supposed to be there. Yes, I patched the game before I played it through. There are a lot of bugs still present, mostly annoyances that simply ruin the suspension of disbelief. Much of the story design, which is cliched and utterly predictable, the voice actors, 2/3 of which make my teeth grind in anguish, and enemy AI, of which there is seemingly none, ruin this idea as well. U9 is not immersive through atmospherics.

Another method of immersion is world interactivity. A world that thinks, and lives, can really cause a player to be drawn in simply through the detail inherent in an interactive world. Possibilities become actuality, through the player trying to accompish the action, such as eating edible items, igniting flammable items, crushing grain to make flour to make dough to make... bread. In this manner, the player learns the un-restrictiveness possible in an immersive world. Ultima 7 and even UO is a pretty good example of this. It is easy to wander and lose oneself in the pure depth of the world as one travels through it. This is a much more cerebral method of immersion. Does U9 succeed at immersion through interactivity? Not really. I can douse and ignite candles and braziers, I can sometimes sit down on chairs, but unfortunately, this seems to be the limit of affecting the world. U9 seems to be more about creating a simple world where your tasks are set, limiting possibilities of what you, as a player, can accomplish.

I don't know of another method of immersion, but it may be sufficient to say that while playing U9 I was not immersed, either via the variety of things I could do, or enjoying the visual and sound experience. I was annoyed nearly all the time at simply dealing with the world, like the bugs and out-of-place elements, and could not put myself into Britannia. For all the game touts itself as, it fails miserably, and I am amazed the developers and designers still say it IS immersive.

The frustration with dealing with the 'immersiveness' of U9 might sum up my opinion of it. However, my other main gripe with it is the story and characters. Within an hour of play, I knew how the story was going to turn out. U9 is sometimes praised as having deep, interactive characters. Uh, no. Nearly all the characters have limited dialouge, and the Avatar's choices are just as simplistic and 'forced'. NPCs in U9 have, for a large part, been reduced to the 'signposts' of Ultima 3 and 4. The storyline is, as I said, quite 'dumbed down' and is often 'forced' on the character, ruining any chance of 'becoming' the Avatar. I have no sense of having a choice about playing a role, I simply click along while the story is forced down my throat. This is the level of action/adventure games, not of Ultimas and other role-playing games of the past. I also found the story to be extremely manipulative - the role one is forced to play is cliche and meaningless, it is even insulting in some places, as if the designers did a half-assed job at creating that role - which is unforgivable for a group trying to make an RPG. The 'bad guy' of the game, the Guardian, is horribly weak. He is unintelligent, uninteresting, and is little more than a cliche fantasy villian. Ultima has returned to its roots, providing a 'Kill The Bad Guy At The End' game such as in U1 and 2.

A lot of U9 is simply half-assed. Some cinematics are used simply for filler material. Some make it obvious that the story was redone simply to include that movie in some manner, as if including the movie on the CD was more important than having a good, coherent story. So much of the story elements seem 'thrown' together, like some kind of whatchagot stew, then expected to taste like a gourmet meal. Game balance, such as with level design, combat, and spell systems, is obviously skipped over to simply finish the game. At times I had reagents all over the place, at others, I couldn't find some to use in the simplest of spells.

Overall... I found nothing to be true about what was touted by Origin to be in U9. It is not immersive. It does not have a grand, epic, storyline. It does not feature deep characters. It is not, as I've so often heard, a masterpeice.

The Bottom Line
My defining U9 experience happened last night, as I was finishing the last steps of the incoherent quest. I was walking through Britain on my way to the ship that would bear me to the last battle. I wanted to enjoy the world while I had the chance, experience the supposedly epic story. Instead, I saw bug after bug, characters repeating the same tired lines without any emotion in their voice, a static world that I, seemingly, could not enter into. At this point, my disappointment with the game became disillusionment, wondering what happened, why such a culmination of one of gaming's oldest series had become so... half-assed.

So, I went and finished it, utterly mystified by the direction of the plot, and sighing in frustration as the Avatar's role was thrust upon me. I watched the ending cinematic (still confused) and sat through the credits. I uninstalled it 5 minutes later.

I finished it because I'm an Ultima fan. I hate it for the same reason.

Windows · by George Shannon (113) · 2000

Everything you've heard about its beautiful aesthetics is true

The Good
As a fantasy adventure game, Ultima IX is terrific. There is so much to explore and there are so many subplots to discover, you will never ever see it all. (The only remote chance you have to see it all is to play it through as each of the 8 possible starting characters, and maybe not even then.) The music is wonderful, the world is suitably large, and the quests are complex. Contrary to popular belief, you can make a lot of decisions about how you complete the game. The plot is pretty linear, but how you accomplish each task is up to you, and there are different ways to approach the problems.

Now, many of the complaints out there revolve around the differences between Ultima IX and the classic Ultimas I-VII. You have to let that go. In order to make the transition from top-down text to 3D third-person audio (or first-person, if you hit K), you have to give up things like an 8 member party, a name other than Avatar, and other things. This medium of game is more suited to visual exploration and spatial problem solving than stat-building, as in a "true" RPG. Myself, I love Ultima V. But you could never do Ultima V in 3D and keep it the same. There are tradeoffs for being visually and aurally immersed in Britannia.

And Britannia is glorious! Everything positive you've read elsewhere about the beautiful graphics, birds chirping and fluttering, atmospheric dungeon sounds, in-town music, etc. is absolutely true. It's very easy to believe that you've been somewhere else after you've played for a few hours.

Some people complain that the inventory system is cumbersome; they don't like to have to choose what to carry and what to leave behind. Hello! That's part of the game! One of the decisions (dare I say, roleplaying decisions) you have to make is what sorts of things you are going to carry or leave behind, and I love that. A warrior type might carry a lot of potions and bandages, while a mage might rely upon his spells for healing, thus freeing up inventory slots (at the expense of the many hitpoints a warrior might have). There are many points in the game where you will find yourself with a full inventory in the depths of a dungeon, and you come upon valuables or items vital to the quest. What to leave behind, what to take with you...

Some people complain about the spell system being cumbersome. I disagree. Casting a spell, once you bind it into your spell book (a nice ritualistic touch), is as simple as hitting the number of the spell level and selecting the spell. Or even better, keeping a shortcut to your spell in your tool belt, which you can activate by a function key. No problem.

The movement in Britannia is intuitive. Point where you want to go and go. Point and click to attack, with sword (or other melee weapon) or bow. Point and spacebar to jump. No worries. The hand-to-hand combat is pretty simple, but this is an adventure game, not an FPS where you need twitch reflexes. In other words, Ultima fans (or other top-down, turn-based RPG fans) who would like to experience Britannia, a fantasy RPG world, in beautiful 3D without becoming a Quake god to survive can do so with ease, and enjoy some good old adventure puzzles and dragon slaying.

In this game you: save the damsel(s), slay the dragons, thwart the pirates, return the church's stolen money, search for many a sunken or buried treasure (bet you never find them all), save a doomed race from extinction, journey to the planes of the four elements, inspire paladins out of retirement, find wondrous items and magical weapons, and pretty much save the world. If you are an Ultima fan, you will encounter old friends in surprising situations, have to make moral choices, hear familiar songs, visit familiar yet altered places, free the shrines once again, and experience the eight dungeons as you've never done before. Sound like fun?

The Bad
I have a few quibbles with the game, but bugginess isn't one of them. By now, any machine remotely worth its salt will be fine with Ultima IX, and the few crashes you do experience can happen with any game, save early and often as usual. Got better than a PIII 500? Got 256mb of RAM? Got a 3D card? You're fine.

I wish rats wouldn't give you gold when they die. That's just silly.

The taverns never seem crowded enough to justify the background sound of bustling conversation.

The directions other characters give you in this game are not very useful. Sometimes they are deliberately misleading you (not everybody is to be trusted), but often there is a lack of scale context, making some destinations hard to find. "In the mountains to the east of the city" doesn't say to me "East most of the way across the continent," but that's apparently what they meant.

I prefer the old-style keyword system of conversation. As reported elsewhere, the menu system of selecting a response can be cumbersome, and tiring when you are having a repeat conversation looking for missed information.

There is a dungeon whose design was so difficult, they ended up putting the exit in the middle, though you can go on and complete the rest of it if you want to. I wish there were some cool but nonessential incentive for completing it, like a great item or even just an easter egg.

The Bottom Line
Adventure gamers looking for a lengthy quest through a beautiful and believable world, or Ultima veterans willing to try a new format to visit old haunts and old friends in need of their Avatar would do well to experience Ultima IX. RPG purists who need to customize every aspect of their character should look elsewhere.

One last point: do you love maps? Play Ultima IX! There are maps of towns, maps for lost treasure, maps of Britannia... in full color on your screen! They work with a sextant to tell you where you are! Just one more immersive element to the game.

Windows · by Donn Thomson (4) · 2004

[ View all 12 player reviews ]

Discussion

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Trivia

Cover

In an interview with Richard Garriott in the mid-1990's, he stated that the original idea for the Ultima IX cover art was to show the standard Ultima logo in crystalline letters against a cloud/sky background. Another prototype cover, published as a poster in 1996, was done in a stained-glass window style and showed the Avatar rising (ascending) with the Guardian's huge red hand attempting to pull him back down.

Development

The creation of Ultima IX has a very entertaining history.

After the completion of Ultima VIII in 1994, Origin started work on the ninth episode -- the finale of the third trilogy. It was supposed to be a bitmap game like Ultima VIII; 3D graphic was no issue back then. However, another project was soon deemed more important: Ultima Online. Ultima IX was put on ice, the complete staff was sent to create the online game. When it was finished in 1997, work on Ultima IX continued; as the graphics were hopelessly out of date by now, a 3D engine had to be programmed.

In 1997, there was only one major manufacturer of 3D chipsets: 3Dfx with its Voodoo technology. So Ultima IX was streamlined to exactly that hardware. After all, the game’s release date was supposed to by not too far away, by the end of 1998. Not surprisingly, the creation process took much longer. One particular reason for this delay was a series of ugly staff changes during 1998.

With Dan Rubenfield and Marshall Andrews, two of the designers for Ultima IX left Origin in May 1998. The departure was not a peaceful one. The two ex-employees blamed Origin to sacrifice gameplay for the sake of a fast buck. Richard Garriott, the father of the Ultima series, reacted equally harsh: both renegades hadn’t got a clue about game design and would have been thrown out anyway. Rubenfield and Andrews went to Ion Storm to work on Deus Ex.

Only one month later, lead designer Bob White followed the two to Ion Storm, although this time there was no bad blood.

The big bang came in July: project leader Ed del Castillo had to resign. Castillo was considered a whiz kid after his work on Westwood’s Command & Conquer series, and had been enticed away by Origin only a year before. He was responsible for some controversial design decisions for Ultima IX, like giving up on the party. After some serious arguments with Richard Garriott, Castillo took his leave due to “philosophical differences”. He went on to found his own software company, Liquid Entertainment, in 1999.

With most of his design team gone, Garriott, who had been acting as a supervisor up to that time, decided to take charge once again. He became executive designer for Ultima IX in Fall 1998.

Development for the game continued. By 1999, the situation on the market for 3D accelerator boards had changed considerably. 3Dfx had lost its supremacy, the Nvidia Riva TNT chip was the new darling of the gamers. Ultima IX was not prepared for this situation. The game ran perfectly well on a Voodoo board under Glide, but was hardly playable under Direct3D. The problem needed fixing urgently. However, there was no time for that. When winter 1999 came closer, Origin decided that it was time to publish Ultima IX to take advantage of the Christmas business.

The game that reached the public was a technical catastrophe. Despite the enormous hardware requirements, it wouldn’t run fluently on any but the most advanced computers. Many owners of TNT-cards didn’t even manage to get the game working. A serious bug in the storyline made it impossible to finish the adventure without cheating. As the complaints poured down on Origin, the company published a series of patches to address the most urgent of problems.

Although these updates gradually eliminated most bugs, Origins reputation had suffered strongly by then.

Glitches

There is a design flaw in the game where, if you know where to try, you can climb / jump up the side of the mountains in the park at the beginning of the game (it's all trial and error). Once you crest the mountains and descend the other side, you are now outside the game world looking back in. It's a big floating island where you can walk underneath it. The ground is transparent from your point of view like a one-way mirror. Weird / creepy!

Joshua

If you perform a side-quest and save Joshua in Moonglow, a book will appear on a table in his house. Read this book. It is called: "Everything an Avatar needs to know about sex".

Message board

One controversial move by Origin that was the final slap in the face for many gamers was its decision to shut down its message boards. Quite simply at the height of the tech-support madness surrounding Ascension's bugs, Origin decided to shut down Ultima Ascension's official Bulletin Boards, leaving them as read-only versions for a while while they re-directed traffic towards fan-managed sites such as The Wayward Avatar and Ultima Horizons.

Patches

Because Electronic Arts pushed Origin to get the game out for Christmas, the game was notorious for its technical problems and bugs. After numerous complaints, EA responded by mailing a remastered cd with the latest patch plus a bonus copy of Ultima Online to the registered owners of the Ultima IX. Unregistered owners had to download the very large patch from their website. This has to be one of the few known cases where it actually paid to register the game!

Soundtrack

After all that Ultima sequels, it was to expect as the music level was progressing, that there can easily be soundtrack expected. It was released in 1999. Soundtrack can be bought at http://www.synsoniq.com.

Tracklist: 1. Stones (chamber) - Britain (positive) - Introduction - Valoria Ships - Paws - Gargoyles - Minoc (negative) - Moongate - Terfin - Undead (intense) - Moonglow (negative) - Good vs. Evil - Moonglow (positive) - New Magencia - Rats & Spiders - Samhayne - Walking Theme - Humanoids - Pyros - Ambush - Good End Game - Stones (electro) - Ambrosia - Yew (positive)

References

  • North-West of Britain there is a hidden mountain shrine to the late Phyllis Jones, mother of Scott Jones, the lead artist.
  • When playing the game, if you go to the jailhouse of Castle Britannia, you will see a character in prison . This character is Richard Garriot screaming "Release me, I am the real Lord British!"
  • A lot of the textures used for the paintings found in the game are really just recycled box covers from the previous Ultimas, including Richard Garriot's first game Akalabeth: World of Doom (often referenced as Ultima 0). The Tapestry of Ages however, is a completely original illustration done by the famed Hildebrandt brothers, fantasy artists known for their trading card and poster illustrations of several comic books heroes.

Awards

  • Computer Gaming World
    • March 2000 (Issue #188) – The Outpost Memorial Award
  • GameStar (Germany)
    • Issue 03/2000 - Best Game World in 1999
    • Issue 03/2000 - Hardware Devourer Nr. 1 in 1999
  • PC Player (Germany)
    • Issue 01/2001 - Biggest Disappointment in 2000
  • PC Powerplay (Germany)
    • Issue 03/2005 - #9 Biggest Disappointment

Information also contributed by -Chris, cpc64, Dan Homerick, Henry Aloni, MAT, Unicorn Lynx, woods01, Ye Olde Infocomme Shoppe and Zovni

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Related Sites +

  • Ascension Fan Site
    Ultima 9 fan site affiliated with RPG Planet
  • Hacki's Ultima Page
    A site listing various inconsistencies within the Ultima series. The majority of the content focuses on Ultima IX: Ascension. (English/German)
  • Hints for Ascension
    Get the solutions you need with this question and answer type file.
  • Review List
    Reading all of the many reviews on this game is easier with this extensive list
  • The wayward avatar
    Newssite on Ultima, Origin and related subjects The wayward avatar had the best walkthrough on Ultima IX available

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Contributors to this Entry

Game added by JubalHarshaw.

Additional contributors: Trixter, Terok Nor, Unicorn Lynx, frank rieter, Jeanne, Paulus18950, Patrick Bregger, Rik Hideto, Robin Adams.

Game added January 23, 2000. Last modified February 13, 2024.